Gender Gender

Teacher sexual misconduct should be stemmed

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Children’s Corner with PANIC CHILUFYA
EIGHT years ago, Brenda, then aged 17 was forced to drop out of school after she fell pregnant during her first term of Grade 10. Her guardians were disappointed to learn that the man responsible for her condition was one of her teachers who not only had a wife but children at home.
Although the teacher accepted responsibility, according to Brenda, no action was taken to discipline him by the school administration even after a complaint was made by her guardians. It was business as usual; he continued to teach and one can only wonder how many other girls he took advantage of after Brenda.
For Brenda, it was a double loss. It meant she had to drop out of school and her baby died immediately after birth, most likely due to complications associated with her age. As a result of this, her guardians decided to send Brenda back to her parents, who were peasant farmers in Northern Province, because she was no longer in school.
The experience taught Brenda some valuable life lessons and it spurred her willingness to get back to school, which she did; she re-enrolled in Grade Nine. She is one of the beneficiaries who took advantage of Government’s Re-entry Policy of going back to school. Brenda performed exceptionally well during her Grade 12 examinations and is now training as a nurse at a private medical school in Lusaka.
Learning from her experience, Brenda has been able to positively turn her life. But although some victims of sexual misconduct have not been so fortunate.
This confirms that about 80 percent of male teachers in Zambia have been involved in some form of sexual misconduct with female pupils as recently revealed by Teaching Service Commission (TSC) chairperson Stanley M’hango.
Speaking during a meeting with district education board secretaries (DEBS) and other officials in the Ministry of General Education in Central Province, Mr M’hango said the TSC had received disturbing reports that sexual abuse in schools was on the increase with 80 percent of male teachers being cited as perpetrators of the vice. Some female pupils who were interviewed admitted to being involved with their male teachers. Meanwhile, in some cases, those tasked with the responsibility of maintaining order like head teachers do not report cases of sexual misconduct amongst teachers as was the case with Brenda. Instead, they close ranks to protect each other from higher authorities like the TSC.
It is hoped that TSC will immediately put into practice the decision to instantly dismiss teachers who will be found guilty of abusing their pupils because they are definitely in the profession for the wrong reasons. Girls are sent to these institutions to acquire knowledge to empower them and equip them for the future, not to serve the sexual interests of selfish teachers. Similarly, those found guilty of concealing cases of sexual misconduct should also be dismissed for not taking their responsibility of protecting the children under their charge seriously; they should not be spared because of the harm they inflict on innocent lives.
These sexual predators who masquerade as teachers should be put to shame and should realise that education is the right for everyone, including the girls they abuse with impunity because of the positions they hold.
The high percentage of sexual misconduct is alarming and if not addressed, Zambia will not be able to achieve meaningful progress and gender equality by 2030. There is urgent need for Government and TSC to seriously scrutinise those joining the teaching profession as a way of weeding out those found to be unsuitable.
Only then will young people be exposed to positive role models and mentors who will enable them to make responsible life choices in their journey into adulthood. When children are sent to schools, teachers and administrators are supposed to represent parents and guardians by instilling good morals and discipline and not take advantage of their vulnerability, especially girls.
Remember, children are our future, until next week, take care.
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